Sorry for the long wait. As you can see from the word count I got a little over ambitious with this one. Not much to say except that it's post canon, and beware the sap-fest, because I went all out fan girl mode with this one.
The hallway was narrow, three shoulder breadths across. A steel door capped one end, the one they'd been trying to blow open when every alarm went off.
It was an accurate assessment of their situation, if not overly optimistic. Snake Eyes might have had the good sense to fear his fate if he wasn't so preoccupied with the rapid gunfire blazing overhead and to every side.
During a lull in the fusillade, Scarlett shot to her feet and leveled her M9 over the top of the upended metal table they were using as cover. Three shots. The sound of two bodies falling. She dropped back down. "I'm out." Blood wept from his right bicep. "How's your arm?"
[I'll live. What did you see?]
"We're like fish in a barrel. At least a dozen of them are barring the other end of the corridor. It's the only way out – no side doors or duct panels – and they're armed to the teeth." She grit her teeth. "How did they know we were here? They must have been informed –"
[Doesn't matter now. Backup?]
"I've got nothing on the comms." She closed her eyes briefly, opened them. "What's our exit plan?"
Snake Eyes wasn't a general. He had no head for war games or large scale strategy. But when it came to small tactical assault, there was none better than a ninja with a survival instinct. He pointed up. [I take out the lights. Then I move out to the left, draw their fire, drop as many as I can. That's where I'll make a hole in their blockade. You move along the east wall until you can break through. Grab one of their guns and blast your way out.]
Scarlett looked down to where she gripped her empty sidearm, knuckles white. "I don't think I like that plan."
[On my mark.] He counted off on one hand. [One. Two.]
"Wait." He barely heard her over the thundering gunfire, the sound of both their hearts pounding. She pulled up his mask and pressed her lips to his. It reminded him of their first kiss, quick yet powerful, tinged with a bit of fear, neither one knowing what lay on the other side. "Just in case," she breathed into his mouth.
He pulled his mask back down and nodded once. [One. Two.]
On three a handful of shuriken shattered the overhead lights. From the darkness came the tinkle of raining glass, bursts of jumbled shouts and expletives, stomping boots, and the angry buzz of random gunfire. Snake Eyes made no sound as he unsheathed his katanas and swept down the hall to the hush of slicing flesh, the telltale crunch of breaking bones.
Five were down when he felt Scarlett slip past him, a spurt of wind at his back. He saw only a vague outline as she rolled into a somersault past a fallen guard, grabbed a firearm out of a limp, dead hand, her hair like twisting ribbons as she raced into darkness.
Eight down. Ten down. His senses were slowing, breath shallow and his vision starting to spin. He should have tourniqueted that damn arm before throwing himself into the lion's maw.
But regrets on the battlefield usually landed one on a steel slab. So Snake Eyes forced his mind to clear, sheathed his swords, and staggered after Scarlett.
Two steps in his head exploded with flashes and pain – the crack of a rifle connecting to his skull.
The next thing he registered was the ground, hard and cold. He opened his eyes and found himself staring up into two pairs of night vision goggles, two beads drawing on his heart. "Get a load of who we've just captured. The Commander will be throwing out promotions for this one." Snake Eyes had just closed a hand around a knife hilt at his belt when he heard it:
"Step away, assholes." Shana's voice. No. No. She wasn't supposed to be here. Why didn't you escape?
A gun discharged. One guard fell beside Snake Eyes as he struggled upright. Why did you come back? The other guard moved the barrel of the rifle from his chest to aim at the sound of her voice, and fired.
The problem with Shana, Snake Eyes thought, was she couldn't let some things go.
"I don't see why you're so against this. You need to be able to talk to people."
Talk to people. Did she even realize how incongruous that sounded? But that was the trouble with her, she couldn't just act like everyone else who had the misfortune of stumbling into his life, backing away uncomfortably whenever he materialized, accepting his quickly penned notes without question or comment, shrugging off the stifling silence with a few awkward jokes at his expense and in general never giving a second thought to what kind of inner life might be living inside the shrouded, silent ninja.
Instead of making her burgeoning apprenticeship easy, she'd spent the better part of two weeks badgering him about this new scheme. Snake Eyes took a moment to consider his reply, then scribbled: THANK YOU FOR YOUR OFFER. BUT IT'S OK. He put her insistence to teach him sign language down to personality, her insatiable hunger for knowledge. She had already mastered three languages and counting. Perhaps this was simply an excuse to put another notch on her linguistic belt. I HAVEN'T BEEN ABLE TO SPEAK FOR YEARS. I'M USED TO IT.
Her face bunched as she read the note. She crumpled it in her palm with a trace of disgust. "Snake Eyes, can I be honest with you?" He thought – When are you ever not? – and nodded his head. "Waiting around for you to write out your little notes…it's kind of a drag. I mean, talk about a time suck. You're always going on and on about speed and efficiency and fluidity. Wouldn't it be more efficient if you could just say what you want to say right when you want to say it?"
Why didn't she get it? She just refused to understand. I'll never say anything, Shana. And that was the real problem, the real trouble. Not Shana, but his shortcomings, and he wished she'd stop reminding him of it.
SURE, he wrote. IT WOULD. BUT EVEN IF I LEARNED SIGN LANGUAGE, HARDLY ANYONE ELSE KNOWS IT.
Her face lit up. "But I do. Well – I'm learning as fast as I can." Boldness was Shana's factory setting, a trait that fit her like a well tailored suit. But she broke character with a small, timid smile. "Don't you at least want to be able to talk to me?"
From behind his mask, Snake Eyes' mouth parted and his eyebrows slid up. Does she know? Her face was young and innocent, her expression benign – but did she know? How his pulse quickened when she said his name, or how she clouded his thoughts day and night? Was her question mere curiosity, or did she know enough to say exactly what was needed for him to give in?
OK. WHERE DO WE BEGIN?
She looked up from his note and grinned. "The same way you start learning any new language. With greetings."
Backup generators hummed to life. Backup troops flooded the compound with the fluorescent light that bathed her static, pallid face as she lay with her head cradled in his lap.
"She's not dead."
Tunnel Rat's voice. When did he get here? But he was too late, too late. If he had come ten minutes earlier then maybe...
"She's critical, but she's not dead."
But how could you possibly blame Nicky? He wasn't the one covering her back when it all went to hell. He wasn't the one entrusted with her care all those years ago. Shana is your responsibility. She was your responsibility. Was, and now you must forever think of her as was and used to be and dea–
"Snake Eyes!" Snake Eyes squeezed his eyes shut. "Snake Eyes!" He couldn't think with Tunnel Rat shouting, the lakes of blood everywhere and the incessant throbbing in his head, the voice of truth beating him over and over again. She's dead she's dead she's dead.
"Snake Eyes!" Fingers dug into his arm. He looked to their source and saw Tunnel Rat's face, bodies littering the floor, the ones he must have killed, but he can't remember how or when, can't think past five minutes ago and the moment the bullet struck her down, and now Tunnel Rat was here, somehow, speaking to him. "Snake Eyes, listen to me. She's not dead."
Snake Eyes looked down. If he stared hard enough he could see beyond the blood and stillness and silence, he could see that she was –
"Let's get her to an evac."
"Try it again. And this time not sooo…."
Snake Eyes tilted his head. What?
"...sooo like you're trying to slaughter something."
His eyes narrowed. He felt a little like slaughtering her. But Snake Eyes summoned a measure of his legendary control, shoved down his irritation, and tried it again. From her aggravated sigh, he concluded he had not yet mastered the simple message. "You're doing the motions right – eerily precise, actually– but it's too fast. Slow it down. Ease into it. I know ninjas are all about speed, but this is communication, not a race." She signed it for him again.
He looked down at the ground for a moment, then reached for his pen and paper. I THINK WE SHOULD CALL IT A NIGHT.
"No. Absolutely not." Snake Eyes almost recoiled. For a minute she'd sounded exactly like the Hard Master. "If you can flip through the air like a dozen times or balance on a telephone wire, then you can do this." And she was right – at least about the mechanics. The physicality of learning sign language was not beyond him.
But she was also wrong. What did it mean, to learn this language? It meant admitting his defeat. His terrible weakness born of his terrible failure. It meant facing the reality of what he'd become and finally letting go of his stolen voice, the hallmark of his past and all the demons that lived there.
It also meant stepping into an uncertain future. One where he would be expected to say what he thought, say what he felt, where he could no longer hide behind the jagged scar across his throat, swallowed in the shadows and silence. Was he really ready to step into a world of light and sound?
"Just try it one more time," she said, her voice softening.
Snake Eyes tried again. A swipe of the palms. Two fists, both index fingers pointed upwards, drawn together to meet in the middle. A point in her direction. [Nice to meet you.]
Her hands flew up. "There! That's it! That was great." She smiled wide and he thought she might clap, like a child at their birthday party. But instead she tucked her hair behind her ears, straightened her back and stuck out her right hand. "It's nice to meet you, too."
Shaking hands was not a customary greeting for Japanese. And, oddly enough, none of his acquaintances in America ever felt the need to perform social niceties with the silent, deadly ninja. But after a few beats of painful awkwardness, Shana's lonely hand hanging in the hair, Snake Eyes cautiously raised his arm.
They didn't quite shake. Rather they stood there, hand in hand, a slight pressure against his palms, strangers that had decided to become friends.
Ten minutes of sign language lessons for one hour of ninjitsu training, and Snake Eyes was starting to realize he'd got the better end of the bargain.
"Traumatic brain injury caused by a penetrating gunshot wound near the left temporal lobe."
He had carried her like a child to the evac helicopter, laid her on the stiff white stretcher and kneeled by her side, refused to budge even when the swarm of heckling medics descended on him, yelling at him about concussions and sustained hemorrhaging.
"If you'll look here at the scan you'll see in this area an accumulation of blood, what we call an acute intracranial hematoma."
Drenched in her blood, not an ounce of it showed against the inky fabric that made up his uniform, the proof of his sins dissolved into the darkness. It's why he chose the color. It's why he burned every scrap of it once they touched down on US soil and she was wheeled into surgery.
"While these cases aren't hopeless, her prognosis isn't good. I can give her a thirty percent chance of waking up, and those chances decrease every day she stays in this coma."
Coma. Such a deceivingly simple word for which he'd never bothered learning the sign. Her face and body were shut down in a way he'd never seen before, even when she had been knocked unconscious. Watching her closed eyes and unresponsive mouth, she didn't look like she was sleeping. She looked like she was –
"Is there anything at all we can do?" Her father's battered voice. He had booked a flight from Atlanta the minute General Hawk had made the call. The doctor directed all her comments and questions to him while Snake Eyes loomed in the dim light of her bedside like a silent sentinel, maskless and unarmed, shod in simple civvies that Shana had bought for him he can't remember when.
"It's hard to say, Mr. O'Hara. Right now it's really a waiting game. But it's probable she can hear you, so try talking to her. Sometimes familiar sounds or voices can help."
Her father said, "I will."
Snake Eyes said nothing.
He forgot words. He mixed up motions. But he wasn't a hopeless case, she told him. "In fact, I kind of like watching you fluster around like this," she said after he flubbed another phrase. "It makes me think there might actually be a human under there and not some ninja-bot. And having hard proof that there's something I'm better at than you doesn't hurt, either."
But he didn't mind the potshots or the frequent doses of humility. The truth was he had never had a genius for language. Communication was a tricky thing, even when he could talk. His mind worked best in the realm of shapes and distances, not words, calculating trajectories, translating forces into velocities with the same unthinking intuition that made others novelists or master orators.
Snake Eyes didn't need to be a master orator. He'd settle for mastering the alphabet, his finger mimicking Shana's as she traced a letter "z" into the air.
"And that's all of it, A to Z," she said.
GOOD. NOW I CAN WRITE EVERYTHING IN THE AIR INSTEAD OF ON PAPER.
She stared at his note with a puzzled frown, as if reading a foreign language, then looked up at him askance. "I'm sorry – did you just make a joke? Were you being...sarcastic?"
His eyebrows shot up. Uh-oh. Before they had intersected into each other's lives, his isolationist habits had tamed his personality into a kind of dormancy. Snake Eyes tried his utmost not to awaken the sleeping beast, or let any of it slip through the fine cracks in his Fierce and Deadly Ninja facade. He found it ruined his mystique.
He folded his arms and gave his best stern head shake.
Shana laughed. This is exactly what I mean, he thought with a silent groan. "See, you do stuff like that, and it makes me wonder."
She folded the note and slipped it into her pocket. "That there's a whole lot you're not saying."
For the first few weeks a steady flow of visitors filtered in and out of her hospital room. Shana had scanty friends and family to speak of, but the whole team rotated through, Tunnel Rat snarking the discomfort away, Roadblock blaring his worst music.
Marvin laid a plate of her favorite cookies on her bedside table with a shrug and, "I figured it couldn't hurt. Who wouldn't want to wake up for a batch of these babies?"
Nicky rolled his eyes. "Only you would think cookies could be the next big cure for coma."
"Stranger things, man, stranger things." Their voices faded through the door, down the hall.
Duke remained. He looked down at Scarlett with hard, dry eyes and issued his standard NCO boiler plate. "Look alive, soldier. You think we're gonna give up on you now? Cobra's still out there, still hurting people, and we need you out of that bed so we can bring them down, together. And that's an order."
[She outranks you, stupid. You can't order her to do anything.]
Duke blinked at him. "I'm sorry, what?"
Snake Eyes waved a hand. Nothing. It was an unfair remark and he knew Duke meant well. Duke always meant well, and he always had one way of meaning it, with grandeur and nobility, and for all that Snake Eyes respected the sergeant he could never fully quash the unease of his presence, the nagging question of why Shana would ever settle for coarse graphite when there were polished diamonds waiting in the wings.
Not that it mattered now, while she lay like a stone in her hospital bed. Duke lowered himself onto the little sofa to sit awkwardly beside him, abusing his baseball cap in his fidgeting hands. "We all want her back, Snake Eyes. I know you most of all."
"And we're here for you, too. You know that, right?"
This time he gave a sign that he knew Duke would understand. [Thank you.]
But with each passing day the visitors thinned, her room emptied of life. The solitude gave Snake Eyes a chance to steep in his remorse and guilt, and he could hear her phantom voice chiding him in his head: "Why are you being like this? I did it to save you."
[But a life without you isn't really worth saving, is it?]
"You're impossible. Why do you always blame yourself?"
[Because it's always my fault.]
Her father made his last appearance one bright Tuesday morning. "Hey Pumpkin. I brought something for you." Patrick was crying, his hands shaking as he pulled a worn teddy bear out from a brown paper bag. "Remember this? You used to drag this thing with you wherever you went. I thought you might want it to keep you company." A relic from her childhood, another guilt offering laid at the altar of his neglect.
What could it be but a goodbye present?
SO YOU'RE FLYING HOME?
Patrick broke down after he read the note, and would not look him in the eye. "Maybe it's not right." No. It's not. "But I can't stay here any longer. My presence won't do her a lick of good, but maybe my work can. And I know...I know you won't leave her."
Her small hospital room gently quieted to the lifeless hum of machinery and two voiceless mouths. Snake Eyes tried to fill the crippling silence in the only way he could. He wrote with his finger down each of her arms, across her neck. Her name, his name. In English and Japanese.
I love you. Koishiteruyo. Please wake up. Okitekudasai.
[Open your eyes and hear me,] he signed again and again over her unseeing eyes.
But she wouldn't open them. She wouldn't move and she wouldn't speak. She lay there, every day, every hour, breathing and living, silent as the dawn. And he of all people knew that to be silenced was really just a kind of slow death.
Shana rose as he vaulted over the ledge of the roof and landed gently before her. Straightening he saw she wore a smile, and that particularly devilish gleam in her eye that made him want to back away slowly. "So, Snake Eyes. I was thinking…"
He backed away slowly.
"Hey! Stop that! It's not anything dangerous. I was just thinking that we need names."
[Names?] An odd suggestion, considering they both had them. He cocked his head. [What do you mean?]
"On the first day of class, my ASL professor gave us all sign names – and that's what we should do. We should make names for ourselves in sign language."
[Why? You can say my name.]
"True. But let's at least make one for me. Then you could say my name instead of just pointing at me all the time."
[You don't like that?]
She folded her arms. "It makes me feel like I'm about to get detention."
He had no idea what detention meant, but the way she said, like she was eating soap, gave him a vague notion it was similar to the horse whips his senseis had cherished in their version of discipline. SHOW ME THE NAME YOUR PROFESSOR GAVE YOU.
"No way." She threw the note over her shoulder at the idea. "I hate the one he gave me. We should make a new one. One for just us." Her face split in that high voltage grin of hers, sending out shockwaves as he tried not to dwell on the way she said the 'us.' Slicked with sweat from her rooftop workout, hair damp and disheveled, her grass green eyes shone like beacons in the ubiquitous dim glow of a metropolis at midnight. "What do you think?"
What else could he think, when she went around looking like that? Snake Eyes swallowed. [OK.]
She performed a simple gesture. "How about this?" He nodded his approval. "Good. Now you try it."
He took a moment to focus, then held out his fist to form an 's,' extended his first two fingers to form the letter h and passed it over his face, forehead to chin. Shana. Short. Simple. Nothing about performing the easy motion felt momentous.
But when he watched her close her eyes, a smile ghosting at her lips, it dawned on him that he had said her name for the very first time.
"It's like I can hear it." Her eyes opened. "Say it again."
He left her side for only a few hours each day. To train. To run and kick and hit things till his hands bled. He turned his naked face to the sky and let the sun and rain beat down on him in turns, the only variation in a parade of weeks and months that blended together until he hardly knew what day it was or how long he had been waiting for what would never come.
Then one afternoon he heard a knock, the shush of an opening door, and the doctor walked in, ushering with her those awkward seconds where her face visibly scrambled, trying desperately to remember what she was supposed to call him.
"Sir?" She usually settled on sir. "Sir, I've come to inform you that we'll need to move Miss O'Hara soon."
Snake eyes shot up, shaking his head, hands moving rapidly in the air.
"I'm sorry, sir. I don't understand. We can provide a translator, but it will take some time."
He shook his head again and grabbed a pad and pencil. SHE'S NOT GOING ANYWHERE.
"I'm sorry, but that's not up to you."
SHE HASN'T BEEN HERE THAT LONG.
"After three months it's procedure to transfer our patients to a long term facility. We've kept her here longer than we should, and at this juncture..." She hesitated. Snake Eyes could detect pity from a mile away, and her voice was lathered with it when she said, "I'm sorry, but we're simply not equipped to deal with the type of long term care she's going to need."
The allusion to Shana's future, to her non-future and permanent stasis, stripped him of any other argument. He put the pen away. The doctor slipped through the door and left them to their silence.
Snake Eyes reached down and smoothed back her hair. It had grown ragged and unkempt, her skin sickly white. What would a long term facility look like? A room lined with bodies just like hers, slowly morphing into corpses?
He had a feeling it would look like a morgue.
Snake Eyes rose. He paced around the room, fingers pulling at his hair, his limbs and body drained, as if a balloon had burst inside him. He was deflating. Useless. Powerless. Because all the skill and patience and strength in the world could do nothing to halt her slow, inevitable decline, and he wished she had died, wished both of them had died. Death, at least, provided a way forward. Death could be translated into purpose.
But this endless waiting…
He returned to her side, subsided onto her bed and leaned over her, touching his forehead to hers. Shana had once asked him what it felt like to attempt talking. He'd answered that it felt exactly how it sounded: like nothing. And that was exactly how it sounded now when he said, "I don't know what to do anymore. I don't know what to do, or say. If I could speak, maybe I could reach you." He paused. "But if I could speak, maybe I would have never met you. Isn't life funny?"
But Snake Eyes heard no laughter. He heard what he always heard. Silence. The silence. The verdict of his failure.
"Shana, please come back. I don't think I can survive this." Was there any way to atone? He couldn't undo time. He couldn't take her place on that bed. The best he could offer was to become like her. So he shifted her slightly and laid down in the meager space beside her, his head next to hers and her hand in his as he whispered in her ear – "Shana, please. Shana. Shana." – closed his eyes and softly drifted, drifted…
What do you dream about?
She had asked him that, once, years ago when they still handled each other with caution and waking up beside her felt a lot like dreaming. "I know you do because sometimes you thrash around a bit in your sleep. And it's kind of creepy."
Instead of answering he had sunk into himself, probably jumped out of the window or something. He was never good at disclosure. He was much better at escape. And how could he ever explain to her the burning replays of his parents, the hard master, blackened skin and blood leaking from his throat?
But as he lay next to her in those fresh, hazy stages of slumber Snake Eyes welcomed them like old friends, every nightmare now a kinder version of reality, because sprinkled among the horror was her, vibrant and cunning – awake – teaching him to say hello, teaching him the alphabet.
Their first handshake.
A hand pressed against his.
His eyes snapped open. There was pressure on his hand. Slight, unsteady, but there.
He bolted upright. [Shana?]
Her eyes were closed. Her mouth was closed. Her breathing had not changed.
"Shana?" Nothing. "Shana, please be there." Silence.
His breathing slowed. His pulse steadied. Snake Eyes put a hand over his eyes and turned his back to her prostrated face. You're never waking up, are you?
And then he heard it, the specter of her voice haunting his head, as it sometimes did. "Snake?" A whisper this time, quiet as clouds and dry as gravel. "Snake?" But something was different. The air had shifted. Snake eyes twisted around.
Green eyes opened. "Snake?" His whole world hung on a single, silk thread and he was afraid to touch it, to move or to speak because he had such a knack for breaking things. So he stared frozenly at her and did nothing. "It's you, right?"
It's real. He nodded. He took one of her hands. [You're awake.]
"Yeah." She licked her lips. "Why can't I move?"
[You've been gone for a long time.] He should call the nurses.
"Have I? But I heard you. I heard you calling for me."
His vision blurred. [I tried. I tried. But I couldn't say anything. I never can.]
"Don't be stupid. You did." He shook his head. "You did. I've been listening to you for years. I know your voice. I can hear when you say my name."
He didn't reply. His hands were around her neck, twined in her hair as he bathed her skin in tears, a voice in his ear, a smile in her voice as she said, "Say it again."
For those who don't know, this is sort of a homage to the original marvel run when Snake Eyes says his first and only word of the entire series, "Scarlett," while she is in a coma after getting shot in the head (*sobs eternally*). I thought I would do a version for the renegade pair.
While I did do some research for this fic, I really didn't do any research about actual coma patients and their care, so if this is wildly off the mark please forgive me.